The Decline and Fall of the Roman (and American?) Empire: A Free Audiobook

Edward Gib­bon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire – It’s a major work of the Enlight­en­ment, a book that shaped how we mod­erns write his­to­ry (and, for that mat­ter, how we aspire to write in the Eng­lish lan­guage), and it’s now avail­able as a free pod­cast thanks to Lib­rivox. Or at least Vol­ume 1 is. With a run­time of almost 20 hours, this audio­book — click to access indi­vid­ual files or the full zip file — will make it so that you’re not look­ing for the remain­ing vol­umes any time soon. But don’t wor­ry they’re even­tu­al­ly com­ing.

Pub­lished first in 1776, just as the US declared its inde­pen­dence from Eng­land, Gib­bon’s Decline and Fall looked to offer an empir­i­cal expla­na­tion for why Ancient Rome fell as a pow­er, and he gen­er­al­ly point­ed to a decline in civic virtue among its cit­i­zen­ry (why both­er fight­ing the Empire’s wars when you can get mer­ce­nar­ies to do it?) and to the rise of Chris­tian­i­ty (why wor­ry about Rome when a bet­ter life, an eter­nal after­life, awaits you?).

In part, Gib­bon’s work has endured because it speaks to ques­tions that mod­ern pow­ers have on their minds. What brings Empires down, and what (implic­it­ly) allows them to endure? These ques­tions have a cer­tain amount of rel­e­vance these days in an anx­ious US. And indeed Gib­bon’s name was imme­di­ate­ly invoked in a recent pod­cast that asked whether Amer­i­ca, today’s empire, is on the brink. (Click to lis­ten.) The par­al­lels between Gib­bon’s Rome and the con­tem­po­rary Unit­ed States have also been direct­ly explored by the pro­lif­ic, young Har­vard his­to­ri­an, Niall Fer­gu­son. You may want to check out his Octo­ber 2006 piece in Van­i­ty Fair, Empire Falls. And depend­ing on what you think, you can give time to his two books on Empire — the first (and bet­ter) one focus­es on the British Empire, and a sec­ond one devotes itself to the US.

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Comments (7)
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  • Gib­bon’s book is named (and about) the decline and fall, not the rise and fall.

  • Carol Jurd says:

    I haven’t read (or lis­tened to) all of Gib­bon’s book/s, but he does seem to ignore the fact that (a) the Roman empire last­ed for a very long time, (b) the east­ern Roman empire (which he rather dis­miss­es) last­ed even longer. Does he per­haps attribute this to moral rea­sons, where per­haps there were oth­er under­ly­ing caus­es: the rise of oth­er pow­er­ful nations, eco­nom­ic fluc­tu­a­tions. It’s easy to over­sim­pli­fy and draw sim­i­les from a very unsim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion.

  • Len says:

    Gib­bon did not ignore the length of the Roman Empire. More­over, his book deals with the empire’s decline –not its rise!

    His work is a major lit­er­ary achieve­ment of the 18th cen­tu­ry –still cit­ed by schol­ars. Gib­bon, con­sult­ed more orig­i­nal and ancient sources than any oth­er ‘Rome’ schol­ar then or now. He ‘pio­neered’ the use of ‘foot­notes’. There­fore, we know what Gib­bon read and the con­clu­sions derived there­of. To assert that Gib­bon ignored the length of the Roman Empire is like say­ing Ein­stein ignored the speed of light!

    Gib­bon’s his­to­ry was pub­lished in six exten­sive vol­umes in 1776. It went through six print­ings. The orig­i­nal vol­umes were pub­lished as quar­tos, a com­mon pub­lish­ing prac­tice of the time.

    Even the peri­od cov­ered by Gib­bon is not ‘short’ –the peri­od after Mar­cus Aure­lius (from just before 180) to 1453. Gib­bon most cer­tain­ly knew a thing or two, as well, about the East­ern Empire. He is con­sult­ed by every­one writ­ing about it today.

  • ratanlaxmi says:

    ed gib­bon was very gift­ed, i would love to have all his intro­duc­tion in the sev­en books that got print­ed. it will be heaven,s edel­weis show­er on me.

  • ratanlaxmi says:

    i would love to have the pref­ace ofall the sev­en books of edward gibbon,s.
    it would be heaven,s edweils show­er on me.

  • Colin says:

    The inter­net eh. Some­one comes on, says they haven’t read a book and then pro­ceeds to crit­i­cise it. Which book? The most respect­ed and ground break­ing book in its field. The book that has been cit­ed by schol­ars for cen­turies and con­tin­ues to be read by ama­teurs for the sheer plea­sure of it. Price­less stuff.

  • Dan says:

    Cit­ing Fer­gu­son? The lunatic fringe Neo-Con. Sad.

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